COLUMN: A different type of grieving in pandemic

As pieces of our identity have been stripped away by COVID-19, we’ve experienced that empty feeling.

What do you do when everything that makes you you is taken away?

Many of us have wrestled with this question over the last three months as COVID-19 has rampaged through our lives, taking away our jobs and our freedoms and our identities.

Health crisis? Yes, for some. Financial crisis? Yes, for many. Existential crisis? Yes, for just about everyone.

Consider the case of your friendly neighborhood writer, offered with the belief that many of you will find it familiar. Had I been asked in January to list the things that form the core of my identity – the things that give my life meaning, purpose or value – I may have said the following.

I’m a journalist. I am a Christian. I am a husband and a father. I like sports. I coach girls house soccer. I like hunting for vintage toys in thrift stores and, because I grew up in the 1980s I especially love to find Transformers.

There’s more that makes me me, but those are the highlights, and in span of two weeks in late March and early April, just about all of that was erased from my life.

I was laid off from the Chilliwack Progress. Sports fell like dominoes. No Canucks. No Blue Jays. The plug was pulled on youth sports, two days in fact before my team was due to play in the Surrey Mayor’s Cup tournament.

All thrift stores were closed.

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At some point you look up and say, ‘This can’t be real. This can’t be happening. Can I wake up now?’

There’s an empty feeling when you finally accept it is real, and you’re left asking yourself, ‘Soooooo. What now?’

Lucy Fraser, the Director of Programs at Chilliwack Hospice, counsels people through grief when loved ones die. What myself and many others have been going through these last few weeks, she says, is a form of grief. We’ve been grieving the loss of the life we had.

A big part of that process is adapting. Can’t do this anymore? Do that instead.

In my case, that’s meant becoming a champ at jigsaw puzzles and getting into a large collection of board games I never had the time or energy to play before. It’s meant getting out of the house for evening walks.

For others it’s meant a deep dive into online shopping or the resurrection of a long-ago abandoned hobby.

There is no magic answer to that question, ‘What now?’

The important thing is we get knocked down, but we get back up and we find our own way to keep moving ahead with a trait we all share.


Are you in a different and better place than you were two weeks ago?

Humour is a huge part of grieving and laughter heals. Sometimes all you can do is laugh at the absurdity of a situation. You’ve seen the online meme of a sad self-isolating Kermit the Frog looking out a rainy window and the words (maybe not exact), ‘I wonder if Winners misses me too?’

COVID-19 is serious business and big picture, lives have been and will continue to be lost. But individually, laughter is a survival tool. It’s something that chases away the darkness and makes us feel good, even if only for an instant, and without moments of levity how miserable would we be?

As our province slowly wakes up and our ability to work and play do what we do is restored, there will be less to grieve.

I’ll get sports and thrift stores and my soccer team back, and because COVID-19 happened I’ll actually end up with more things that ‘make me me.’

I am in a better place than I was two weeks ago, two months ago.

I’m no longer grieving the life I once had. I am adapting and laughing and celebrating the life I have, hopeful that better days are ahead.


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